I have no grave to place flowers by. I have no headstone to polish and sweep. I do have a beautiful, smooth, wooden box, made by my husband Cam, that we keep on the same shelf as the vodka. We don’t reach for the vodka often, or the box for that matter. The box contains the burned bones of my son.
And now I also have a sixty-five foot cement wall in a parking lot in East Vancouver covered in glorious red paint, at the centre of which there is a huge and uncanny portrait of my son Holden in black and white, smiling out at the world. He looks truly happy. I hope it’s true. There is no good resting place for your child, but this wall makes sense. If there has to be a symbolic location for Holden to be recognized, well, this is his kind of place.
The background of the mural is covered in reproductions of Holden’s own graffiti lovingly re-created by some of his closest friends. There are imprints of some of his tattoos, tributes and secret messages. I hope you get the chance to see it up close. Watching those kids work so hard was a very emotional and powerful experience. It was a modern ritual of love and devotion. An urban salute and a glorious tribute to a fallen comrade. I am forever grateful for their beautiful work, their sincere efforts and their friendship of Holden. They honoured him in a way they couldn’t do in a church, or with a memorial service, a way that was intrinsically him. It was a precious gift to all of us.
I was moved over and over again on Saturday by the comments people made to me about how much Holden had impacted their lives with his kindness, his understanding and his unique charms. His actions have sent ripples into many many hearts. We all miss Holden and I think he misses us too. He would have thought the day was pretty cool.
“How long will it stay?” Someone asked me that day.
“I really can’t say.”
Maybe a year, until it gets painted over. Maybe longer. Maybe the whole wall will be torn down for development by Christmas. You know, retail on the bottom, condos up top. Maybe that’s why they offered the wall in the first place. Or maybe next week some little punk will scrawl a drunken tag over his gorgeous face. That would make me fume and it would also be quite fitting. The nature of street art is temporary. And so is the nature of life.
How long will you live? “I really can’t say.”
When Holden passed away two summers ago a friend suggested starting some kind of legacy fund. In my sorrow I had no idea what that meant. She placed papers in front of me and I signed them like a robot, with no intention other than doing what I thought I was supposed to do at the time.
“At times like this people want do to something to help,” I think she said.
“And you don’t want all that lasagne,” said another.
“Just get it started and you can decide later what to do with it.”
People are generous and people are kind and people gave and the Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artists grew. This spring, on a day I did not feel like crying, I contacted the Vancouver Mural Festival to see if they had any ideas about how to use the grant proceeds. The organizers offered to create a live graffiti jam in Holden’s honour which made me feel like crying in a completely different way. The whole festival was incredible. There are more than 50 stunning murals around the city. There are tours every Saturday or just grab a map and walk around to find them. What a treasure on our streets.
Holden loved graffiti. He loved everything about it. The creativity, the smell, the camaraderie, the rebellion, the music, the danger, the colour, the risks and the thrill. He may even have enjoyed getting arrested for it, as a badge of honour. From the time he was about eleven he drew and drew and drew and drew those tags. His work evolved and changed and grew more intricate but it never ever stopped. Until it did.
On Saturday, at the Holden Courage Memorial Graffiti Jam, I got the chance to use a little bit of spray paint. As I stood there, in front of the wall, shaking that can and feeling the thump of the metal balls inside stirring the paint, I felt like a total badass. A middle aged, motherly badass, but a badass none-the-less. In that moment I think I understood a little bit of how Holden may have felt when he painted.
Free and alive, brave and unlimited.
With much love and deep gratitude,
** If you would like to see the memorial wall, it is at East 5th Avenue and Main, on the NW corner, in the parking lot. All contributions to The Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artists are gratefully accepted. We have a few photo books of Holden’s graffiti work left. If you would like one, please let me know and I will get one to you. We ask for a minimum $20 donation. We are hoping that we can support other talented artists in creating more beauty on the walls of Vancouver. Because what made Holden truly happy was putting paint on walls. Thank you!**